The College Football Playoff Board of Managers on Tuesday approved a feasibility study of moving the CFP field to 12 teams, an expansion could may formally be approved at an unknown future date. Moving to 12 would triple the field from the current four teams that have competed for the national championship since the CFP started in 2014.
The rubber stamp for further evaluation was expected after the model created by the CFP working group was presented last week to the CFP Management Committee (10 FBS commissioners plus Notre Dame’s athletic director).
“Having heard the presentation made today by the working group, along with the management committee that joined us for today’s meeting, the board has authorized the management committee to begin a summer review phase that will engage other important voices in this matter,” said CFP board chairman Mark Keenum, the president of Mississippi State, in a statement. “These include many people on our campuses. … We have relationships with the bowls and a broadcast partner with whom we will want to consult to explore the feasibility of the 12-team proposal. This too will happen during this summer study period.
“Having given the management committee the charge to look into expansion, it is our duty to take their good work and ascertain whether it is feasible based on the feedback we receive. I caution observers of our process not to rush to conclusions about what this board may decide. The working group has presented us a thorough and thoughtful proposal. There is more work to do, more listening to do and more information needed before we can make a decision. We look forward to hearing more and learning more in time for our next meeting in September.”
This feasibility study by conference commissioners will include details and discussions on topics such as when and where games would be played. It’s expected to be delivered later this summer. The September meeting will include both university presidents and conference commissioners.
As proposed, the six highest-ranked conference champions would populate the bracket along with six at-large teams. There would be no automatic qualifiers for the Power Five conferences. The four highest-ranked teams would receive a bye, and the CFP would commence with four play-in games hosted on the campuses of teams ranked between fifth and eighth.
Playoff games would start approximately two weeks after the conference championship games in early December. The winners of those four games would advance to quarterfinals played on Jan. 1 (or Jan. 2 if New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday). The semifinals would be played approximately 10-14 days later. No proposal has been made on when championship games would be played.
Media rights sources have valued a 12-team playoff at approximately $1 billion per year. The current contract between the CFP and ESPN averages $600 million annually over 12 years through 2025.
For the first time, the highest-ranked Group of Five champion would be guaranteed a spot to play for the national championship. That would come from among the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. If any of the Power Five conference champions are not among the six highest-ranked champions, that would open up a spot for a second Group of Five champion. Last year, these rules would have resulted in Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina entering the field. Pac-12 champion Oregon — No. 25 in the final CFP Rankings — would not have made the playoff.
While berths would go to the six highest-ranked conference champions, there would not be automatic bids for Power Five champions. The Pac-12, the most vulnerable among the Power Five leagues, did not lobby for automatic Power Five bids, sources told CBS Sports, even though there were reports it hoped to see one added. It’s likely their private push did not gain traction.
Independent FBS programs, including Notre Dame, would not be eligible for first-round byes in the field of 12. That means, if the Fighting Irish — or any other independent team — finish undefeated, even if ranked No. 1, the best they could do is a No. 5 seed hosting a play-in game.
No further information was provided as to how bowls would be factored into the expanded field. The New Year’s Six bowls, which rotationally host CFP semifinals, include the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl.
Because many major bowl contracts are signed through 2026, it may prove difficult to start the 12-team CFP prior to the end of the playoff’s current contract with ESPN. That is another reason the feasibility study this summer is so important.
No specifics were offered as to whether the 12 teams would be ranked or seeded differently than as the playoff currently ranks the top four teams each year. Currently, a 13-person CFP Selection Committee selects the four-team field through a CFP Rankings top 25. That could continue, although there have been some suggestions about introducing computers back into the process.